A family member of mine recently described herself as a ‘Plate Spinner’.
Prior to Covid-19, this busy mother of two was working multiple jobs, studying for a degree in her ‘spare time’, juggling regular International travel in-between organising the home, the children’s many and varied extracurricular activities, and all whilst trying to further her career and build a business.
Then virtually overnight, the International travel stopped and her new reality became trying to operate multiple businesses and run meetings from her makeshift desk (aka the kitchen table), negotiate a separate work space from her partner who was also forced to work from home, whilst trying to wrangle the children into their makeshift schoolroom for online classes during an extended lockdown period, and keep them engaged throughout the school day before attempting to study at night once the children were asleep in bed.
Sadly, this busy working mum is not alone – many of us are trying to ‘do it all’ – balance our career with home and family life, juggle numerous balls in the air at once, or as my relative succinctly put it, ‘plate spinning’. But what happens when one area of your life becomes unbalanced? It all comes crashing down!
It wasn’t long before the pressure and stress completely overwhelmed my family member, she could no longer cope with trying to spin so many plates in the air at once - her mental and physical health quickly deteriorated and she wound up hospitalised with pneumonia.
One of the best tips I have ever been taught to prevent ‘plate spinning’ is a time management tool called task batching. Batching similar tasks together and scheduling them into your diary or planner to do at the same time every day allows us to achieve more in a shorter space of time.
This is because our brain goes into different states of association when doing tasks of a similar nature so when we start doing our business bookwork for example, we need to be focused and concentrate on the task at hand. But in the middle of doing that, if we decide to check our social media, or the phone rings etc, our brain literally has to switch from a task orientated focus, to a more social one that requires less concentration – hence flitting from one project to another takes our brain some time to readjust and refocus after switching back and forth. Interruptions slow our thought pattern process. Batching similar tasks together is a way to stay focused and get through the tasks quicker.
So pick the best time of day for you that fits into your lifestyle to do specific batching tasks. If you find it hard to focus in the late afternoon for instance, then don’t schedule this time to do your taxes! Schedule focus orientated tasks that require your undivided attention first thing in the morning.
Schedule in your creative batching tasks when you feel relaxed and at your most creative – this might be in the evenings once the children are asleep for example when you can allow your mind to wander.
Pro tip - block your time. Set a timer or alarm on your I-phone for example to alert you every fifty minutes – focus only on one task for that fifty-minute period of time, and then have a ten-minute break away from your desk and computer screen, do a few simple stretches, go and make a cup of tea etc, before focusing on another fifty-minute block.
Don’t be afraid to turn your phone to either airplane mode (the alarm will still work), on charge in another room or even turn it off altogether. If you need to concentrate and you want to stay focused on tasks, avoid any interruptions and distractions by not looking at your phone for an hour or so.
Consider diffusing some beautiful essential oils to help you stay focused, such as Rosemary, Holy Basil and Frankincense. Citrus based oils such as Lemon and Bergamot are considered mood enhancers and can be used to help you stay refreshed.
Having a diary or planner is a must if you are juggling multiple activities also. At the start of the week, list all of the tasks you need to complete for the next week and then batch all the similar tasks together such as follow up emails and phone calls, adding them into your diary or planner. Schedule in sufficient time to achieve those tasks also – you can’t do a million tasks well in a short space of time!
I also recommend one golden rule to all of my clients – don’t forget to schedule in ‘you’ time. Schedule in a time for exercise, meditation, a relaxing bath – whatever helps your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing – and actually write it down in your diary or planner. If it’s not in the schedule – it doesn’t get done!
Juggling work, family and home is and always has been a delicate balancing act, but putting some time management tools and self-care practices in place will ensure you learn how to juggle, without destroying your health in the process!
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